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Minor League Ball mailbag: Assessing Wilmer Flores

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Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

From the Minor League Ball mailbag:

"I only paid a small amount of attention to prospects until this summer so I didn't know much about Wilmer Flores until he was almost traded this summer by the Mets, and now his work in the post-season. What's your take on him?"---Jim in Princeton, New Jersey.

Flores had too much playing time in 2014 to be included in my 2015 book since he was past rookie limits, but here is what I wrote about him in the 2014 book:

Wilmer Flores doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors. He’s continued his gradual but steady evolution as a hitter, showing more power without losing his ability to make contact. He is aggressive and not likely to draw many walks, but drives the ball more efficiently than he did when he was younger. Keep in mind that he’s still only 22. Flores lacks speed but has a good arm and is a decent-enough third baseman. He can also play second if you don’t care much about range, and the Mets have begun using him at first base to increase his versatility. I don’t know exactly how he fits into the plan, but in time he should hit better than he did during his big league trial, developing into something like a .280/.320/.440 hitter. Grade B.

Flores hit .263/.295/.408 during the regular 2015 season after hitting .251/.286/.378 in 2014. My view of his bat hasn't changed at all from two years ago: I think he will continue to gradually improve the hitting until he winds up in the .280/.320/.440 range by the time he's in his mid 20s. That's not exceptional, but it is solid enough to play regularly at many positions.

However, while I haven't changed views on his bat, defense is another matter.

Two years ago the general assumption among scouts and experts was that Flores lacked the quickness to play shortstop regularly on the major league level. His arm was good enough and he didn't make tons of errors, but it looked like range was a big problem, or at least would be as he matured physically. In 2012 the Mets moved him off shortstop and he spent that year and 2013 getting to know second base, third base, and first base. He performed competently at all three spots but I felt the overall package fit best at third, which was reflected in the comment posted above.

In 2014 the Mets shifted him back to shortstop in Triple-A, more out of roster necessity than anything at first, but he held his own. He played second base and short after moving up to the majors in '14, steady at both positions, and as you know he played primarily shortstop in 2015.

The results haven't been outstanding but they have been surprisingly decent, certainly much better than I think anyone would have expected three years ago. He's played 154 regular season major league games at shortstop, with fielding percentage (.965 vs. .974) and range factor values (4.16 vs 4.38) slightly lower than league average. Advanced metrics are mixed: BIS defensive runs has him at -12, which isn't very good, but UZR/150 is more sanguine at +1.7.

Fangraphs WAR likes his overall defensive package and in fact rates his overall aggregate defensive value at all positions quite positively at 13.0, boosting his career WAR to 3.1 in 885 plate appearances despite hitting that comes out below average overall.

Overall, he isn't a gold glove but he is playable at shortstop right now, as least as long as he continues to provide some offense. My thinking is that, long-term, Flores will still fit best at third base or second base. If he maintains his progress offensively, and I think he will, Flores will have a long and fruitful career.